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Interview: Professor Jonathan Jansen – winner of the 2014 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize

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Nominations for the 2018 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding are now open. The prize, worth £25,000, is awarded annually for outstanding scholarly contribution to global cultural understanding and is designed to illuminate the interconnections and divisions of culture and identity in world civilization.

Here, the 2014 Al-Rodhan Prize-winner Professor Jonathan D. Jansen, who won for his book Knowledge in the Blood: Confronting Race and the Apartheid Past, speaks about what the award meant to him. 

Hi Jonathan. Can you tell me a bit about your book ‘Knowledge in the Blood: Confronting Race and the Apartheid Past’?

The book explores the intergenerational circuitry of knowledge among white Afrikaans youth in South Africa, explaining why these students, born after apartheid, behave as if they were there at the time.

What are your memories of winning the prize?

It was a wonderful surprise, especially given the strong international competition with regards to scholarly books and the fact that the award came from an institution as prestigious as the British Academy.

And how did winning the prize affect your career? Did it open any doors for you?

Well, such an award immediately elevates your academic work on a world stage and influences your scholarly rating at home and abroad – I achieved an A rating in research in large part because of the success of this book. The prize money also helped me to extend my research capacity for the next three books that followed Knowledge.

What does ‘global cultural understanding’ mean to you and how do you think the humanities and social sciences help to further global cultural understanding?

It means paying attention to the serious problems, schisms and conflicts dividing nations and the world in the wake of globalisation: immigration, racism, neo-Nazi movements, class inequality, religious conflicts, etc. In this way the award forces scholars to make sense of these social problems, their origins, politics and meanings, and of course to work on their resolution. The award is therefore very timely in its emergence and powerful in its message.

As for the humanities and social sciences, they play a powerful role in furthering understanding. Fundamentally, the role of the social scientist is to ask deep questions about what keeps us apart and how we can build bridges across divides of culture. 

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